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With majority support, Clinton passes major milestone

  • Story Highlights
  • New poll shows a majority of Democrats supporting Sen. Hillary Clinton
  • New York Democrat is 33 points ahead of Sen. Barack Obama
  • Candidate achieving majority support likely to get party's presidential nomination
  • Rudy Giuliani leading Republican candidates with 34 percent
  • Next Article in Politics »
From Bill Schneider
CNN senior political analyst
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Why is the latest ABC News-Washington Post poll released Wednesday different from all other polls? Because it shows Sen. Hillary Clinton passing a significant political milestone.

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Sen. Hillary Clinton speaks at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute presidential forum Wednesday.

For the first time, a majority of Democrats nationwide supports Clinton for their party's nomination. Clinton's support in the Washington Post-ABC News poll jumped 12 points from last month, to 53 percent. She's 33 points ahead of her closest competitor, Sen. Barack Obama.

That establishes Clinton as the clear national front-runner. Being front-runner means being a target of criticism from other Democrats.

"I heard Sen. Clinton say on Sunday that she wants to continue combat missions in Iraq. To me that's a continuation of the war," her Democratic presidential rival John Edwards said about her views on Iraq in a debate last month.

Obama attacked her attempt to reform the health care system during her husband's administration. "Part of the reason it was lonely, Hillary, was because you closed the door to a lot of potential allies in that process,'' Obama said.

But does it mean she's likely to get the nomination?

Well, yes, if you look at the record. Which CNN did going back to the 1980 election. Every candidate who has gotten majority support in polls taken the year before the election has gone on to win the nomination.

Al Gore and George Bush both reached 50 percent in their parties in 1999. So did Bob Dole in 1995, George H.W. Bush in 1991 and 1987, and Walter Mondale in 1983.

One partial exception: In 1979, a majority of Democrats supported Ted Kennedy for the 1980 nomination -- until the Iran hostage crisis in November. Then most Democrats switched to Jimmy Carter, who went on to get the Democratic nomination.

What's behind the Clinton surge? Fifty-seven percent of Democrats think she's the candidate with the best chance to win the White House. That number went up 14 points in September. She also leads as the candidate who best reflects the Democratic Party's values.

What's happening in the Republican race? Rudy Giuliani's lead is growing. It's now 34 percent. Fred Thompson jumped into second place when he got in the race last month, but he seems to have stalled (17 percent).

What's behind Giuliani's gains? Same as Clinton -- electability. Republicans pick Giuliani as having the best chance to win in November.

But does Giuliani best reflect his party's values? Twenty-three percent of Republicans say he does. Twenty-six percent say Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, does. Twenty-one percent pick Thompson.

Giuliani looks like a winner to Republicans. But many Republicans are not sure he's one of them. That's not a problem most Democrats have with Hillary Clinton.

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The ABC News-Post poll is a national poll. National polls mean more than they used to. That's because of the frontloaded campaign calendar. The country is moving closer and closer to a national primary.

The ABC News-Post polls, conducted September 27-30, had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points and involved telephone interviews with a national random sample of 1,114 adults. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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